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Mistrial in Karen Read case. Legal expert explains the controversial jury instructions that failed to break the deadlock

The judge declared a mistrial in the Karen Read murder case Monday after issuing “controversial” Tuey-Rodriguez instructions to a deadlocked jury. Stuart Cahil/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool

The Karen Read murder trial ended in a mistrial on Monday, as the jury announced it could not reach a unanimous verdict despite being issued the controversial Tuey-Rodriguez instructions in an attempt to break its deadlock.

Northeastern University law expert Daniel Medwed says Tuey-Rodriguez instructions — a kind of a last-ditch effort to break a hung jury — are “very controversial” and outlawed in many states “because of their possibly coercive effect.”

“Massachusetts has tried to adopt model language that seeks to thread the needle between encouraging jurors to break their deadlock and pressuring them to do so by abandoning their genuine and heartfelt positions,” Medwed, a university distinguished professor of law and criminal justice, says.

Medwed explains that the Tuey jury charge dates from 1851 and was sometimes called a “dynamite, shotgun, third-degree or nitroglycerin” charge because it was viewed as jury instructions that could blow open a deadlock by pushing jurors to get back to it and work out their differences.

But it was — and remains — controversial. 

Indeed, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sought to update the Tuey jury charge in the 1973 Rodriguez case.

“Rodriguez tweaked the language from Tuey to make the charge potentially less coercive — continue to deliberate, another jury will have to resolve it, remember your civic duty …” Medwed says. 

“Judges are supposed to stick closely to the language of Tuey-Rodriguez and not add things that could add to the coercion. In particular, there should not be a reference to the inconvenience or possible expense of a new trial.”

The prosecution said in a statement Monday that it would indeed retry the case.

Cannone set a status conference date of July 22 at 2 p.m. in Norfolk Superior Court.

Medwed says that a retrial would likely require new evidence.

Read’s defense team first requested the Tuey-Rodriguez instructions be issued Friday afternoon, after jurors had spent nearly 20 hours deliberating the case and announced they were deadlocked.

But Judge Beverly J. Cannone did not issue the charge until Monday after the jury again said it still could not reach a unanimous verdict. A few hours after issuing the charge, the jury returned without a verdict, and Cannone declared a mistrial.

Medwed says retrying the case will be difficult.

“I think they might talk a big game in the immediate aftermath about retrying her,” Medwed says of prosecutors. “But ultimately, unless new evidence emerges, I think it might be a tough hill to climb and they might not pursue it.”

Prosecutors alleged that Read struck her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe, with her SUV while dropping him off at a home in Canton, Massachusetts, on Jan. 29, 2022, following a night out with friends. Read was purportedly drunk when she was accused of leaving O’Keefe to die in the snow outside a fellow Boston police officer’s home on Fairview Road, according to officials.  necessarily.

Read faced charges of second-degree murder, motor vehicle manslaughter while driving under the influence, and leaving the scene of a collision causing injury and death. She pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

Read’s lawyers said, however, that Read was being framed in a widespread conspiracy among law enforcement, the homeowners and fellow afterparty guests. They suggested O’Keefe was actually beaten inside the home, possibly attacked by the family dog, a German shepherd named Chloe, and left outside.